In just six months, Orlando may have a new mayor and three new city council members. The Orlando City Commission recently approved moving elections to November up from April of 2015 at the partial suggestion of Bill Cowles, Orange County’s supervisor of elections.
Cowles said that having municipal elections just three weeks after the Republican presidential primary would likely confuse voters, so to encourage increased voter participation, the city should alter the date or merge them with the presidential primary.
The city took his advice but moved the elections a full five months ahead of schedule to November. With 2015 being an off-cycle election year, participation is likely to be down. By changing the date, the city at least the city avoided confusion, I think.
Commissioner Robert Stuart was opposed to moving the elections up to November but not totally because of the abruptness of the date.
“I believe the greater question is…when should the terms of the city commissioners start? We now start on June 1. Is that the appropriate time to start? Should we start the first day of the fiscal year, which would give us an entire year of the process,” Stuart said.
So why did Orlando move the election so far ahead when November 3rd is such an arbitrary date? According to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, it will help to keep municipal elections conflict and partisan free.
“It is a stand alone date that does not conflict with anything. It allows us to preserve a non-partisan election date,” said Dyer to the Orlando Sentinel.
Dyer’s likely referring to the Republican primary for president in April. If the city chose to move its election date to match the primary, more Republicans would have turned out to vote, somewhat diminishing Dyer’s hopes of re-election.
A registered Democrat who has plenty of Republican friends and allies—ask Rick Scott and Dean Cannon—Dyer shouldn’t have an issue in that department.
But the city has had problems with voter turnout as of late. Moving the election up five months gives potential candidates just six months to get their campaigns together. Running for office is an arduous and timely task. Taking on an incumbent, especially a well oiled one like Dyer, is even harder. More money needs to be raised, maybe more mailers produced, more doors to be knocked, and just more of everything.
This may also be a way for current council members who are up for re-election to preserve their seats.
Has to be something because “partisan free” and “conflict” don’t pass the smell test. Considering Orlando voters seem to be fairly apathetic towards voting during municipal elections anyway, participation and being dithered about an election date are least of a worry.
The last time Dyer was up for election, just 15.9% of the electorate showed up. That election was in April, too. Did the city have this in mind when moving the election to boost turnout? Doubtful.
For the sake of hindsight and just curiosity, why did the city really move the election up five months? Why not keep with April, share the date with the presidential primary, or just move it up a few weeks instead of months?
2012 Orlando Municipal Elections
On April 3rd, 2012, over 20,000 registered Orlando voters cast ballots for mayor and commissioner. Turnout was poor and no precinct had over 28% participation.
At his re-election soiree, Dyer strongly declared his victory as “overwhelming.”
“To have such an overwhelming victory against three opponents certainly validates the direction I am leading the city,” Dyer said to the Sentinel.
In one sense Dyer is correct. He did beat his challengers like a drum. He scrounged up nearly 60% of the votes cast and his nearest competitor, former Commissioner Phil Diamond, managed just 27%.
But Orlando had over 131,000 registered voters at the time. If just 15% of them show up to give a mandate, that certainly dilutes the definition of the word.
If anything, this may have been a show of municipal apathy, a word thrown around as easily as the wind nowadays.
Dyer was beaten up pretty bad during his last run. One his most vocal opponents, Mike Cantone, called Dyer “ an abusive and absent” leader. He has consistently criticized Dyer’s handling of the city’s finances, writing articles that show the city is in debt to the Sunshine State Government Financing Commission to the tune of $115 million.
Phil Diamond, a former city commissioner, was in the 2012 race for mayor, too. He, like Cantone, dinged Dyer’s handling of the city’s money.
“There’s a lot of concern about [Dyer’s] handling of the venues, and fiscal responsibility in general,” Diamond told the Sentinel.
Those ghosts from 2012 are likely to re-emerge come November. While Cantone and Diamond won’t aren’t candidates this time, so they won’t be around to pick at Dyer, those concerns about the city’s finances will be.
In June of last year, Dyer and the city’s chief financial officer revealed that Orlando faced a $52 million budget gap. Not because of bad deals on venues or bad money management. It was, as put by the mayor, due to voters’ decision to place a cap on property appraisement.
Because of that, the city is limited to grow its tax base.
To curb the issue, the city council approved a property tax increase of nearly 18% to help cover the gap. And again—Dyer and the council trimmed departmental budgets to cover the funding hole.
These problems were bubbling in 2012 as evidenced by Cantone and Diamond’s noise surrounding them.
But taxes and department budgets aren’t fun to talk about. Not really a fun thing to skip to the polls over either.
Maybe the silver lining here is that Orlando’s abysmal turnout isn’t a local problem. It is actually a national issue.
The 15% who showed to the polls in 2012 are about par for the course. So Orlando may not be doing so bad after all.
According to multiple studies, one by governing.com to be exact, turnout in local and municipal elections have been sliding for decades.
In large municipalities like Los Angeles and New York City, residents there are just as apathetic as both cities set record low numbers for turnout. In Los Angeles, 21 percent of the electorate voted while 24 percent bounced to the polls in New York City.
See, Orlando. Your outlook isn’t so bad.
Americans in general just seem to be “meh” regarding voting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as increased turnout doesn’t necessarily equal better results. That solution is subjective. If the candidate that I support wins, then I surely believe that the process works.
Voter turnout doesn’t negate my feelings on who may be best for the job, only results have that power. If my candidate loses, then my thought process may switch to the belief that greater turnout would have aided in achieving the results that I want.
So believing in the theory that a buoyant electorate will yield better politicians is slightly naive and superficial. If anything, more voters showing to the polls will likely underscore results that we already have.
Unless more minorities come to the polls and the electorate is more rounded than what its history suggests. 2012’s results show that those who voted were overwhelmingly white. Caucasian voters made up 13,000 of the 20,000 who showed up to vote. Just 4,000 were black 1,900 were Hispanic.
If make-up of the electorate remained and turnout simply increased, then Dyer would probably maintain the same percentage if turnout was boosted another 15% percent.
But even so, with so much swirling around Orlando, it is tough to completely ignore the negative.
All of this—the money problems and tax issues—will certainly be on the minds of some voters when they head to the polls this November.
But I guess the main question remains what the new election date will do to turnout.
Back to the governing.com, the research there shows that 15% will likely be a high point. If the city would have stuck with the original date or moved it back to November of 2016, they would have saved money while seeing an uptick in voters.
Also—removing the non-partisan tag would yield bigger numbers.
Yet Orlando is bent on having a stand alone election that’s not polluted by partisan bickering. So until city leaders decide to merge with a national election, then turnout in Orlando municipal elections will remain flat.
If so, a 15% turnout may be a sign of the good ‘ol day.
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